Ear Infections- The Billion Dollar Issue (or non-issue?)


When we middle-aged adults were children, everyone seemed to be getting tonsillectomies. The use of those procedures and whether they were necessary or helped at all is hardly debatable… in most cases, they were only money makers (9). The popularity of the tonsillectomy faded out as the myringotomy surgery increased in occurrence, in direct correlation (1). However, having tubes put in actually increases the likelihood that those children will have more issues with acute otitis media (ear infections) (1). Still, the surgery is performed on 1 million American children per year while only 42% of the children in 1994 were actually found to possibly benefit from it. Antibiotics and surgery for ear infections in children bring in $4-$8 billion per year.

Anyone with children knows ear infections and the misery they bring is real. Caring for a child who is normally happy and active and suffering with an ear infection is heartbreaking. Can they be prevented all together? Ear infections are normally preceded by upper respiratory infections, so if we can decrease buildup by limiting dairy which increases mucous, we can decrease the blockage that aides the infection. Early bottle-feeding correlates to recurrent ear infections as well (2). Just because your child is bottle-fed instead of breastfed however, does not mean your child is out of luck. More on that in a bit. Food allergy is the major cause of ear infection, and by removing the found allergy, there was a 90% reduction in the incidence of ear infection (3). The most common offenders are dairy, eggs, wheat, corn, peanuts, oranges, and chocolate, not to mention being exposed to smoke. This correlation between food allergy and ear infection is supported by the increase of otitis media and its correlation with the increase of eczema and asthma in school- age years, which are also related to food allergies (6). Now for formula-fed infants, those on probiotics had a 22% incidence of ear infection while those on a placebo had a 50% incidence (4). The specific strain that has been found to be most effective with prevention is Streptococcus Salivarius K12. Xylitol also reduced infection by 40% (5).

Now, how can we really help our children who are miserable with an ear infection without causing any more problems? Although studies have shown no significant difference between treating children with conventional medicine and placebo in terms of amount of time to relieve symptoms, children treated with antibiotics have recurring infections more often (7). Why is this? Antibiotics mess with our flora. To be healthy, we should constantly be building our good bacteria by eating a variety of foods and playing outside. Building good bacteria and taking antibiotics are contradictory. Botanical ear drops, such as one with mullein and garlic, is found to be just as effective as antibiotics at relieving pain (8). A warm compress behind the ear also helps with drainage, and therefore pain. Also, the ear canal should be kept dry, so no swimming until the child has found relief.

Ultimately, enhancing our children’s immune system with healing foods and aiding in relief naturally without suppressing their immune system with unnecessary medication or surgical procedures should be our goal.



1. Kleinman LC, Kosecoff J, Dubois PW (1994). The Medical Appropriateness of  Tympanostomy Tubes. The Journal of the American Medical Association.

2. Saarinen UM (1982). Prolonged Breastfeeding as prophylaxis for recurrent otitis media. Acta Paediatrica Scandinavica.

3. Ramakrishnen JB (2010). The role of food allergy. Current Opinion in Otolaryngology.

4. Samuli Routava, Seppo Salminem, and Erika Isolauri (2008). Specific probiotics in
reducing the risk in infancy. British Journal of Nutrition.

5. Uhari M, Mantysaari K, Niemela M (1996). A meta-analytic review. Clinical Infectious

6. MacIntyre EA, Chen CM, Herbarth ) (2010). Early-life Otitis Media. The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal.

7. Del Castillo F, Baquero-Artigao F, Garcia-Perea A (1998). Influence of Recent Antibiotic Therapy. The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal.

8. Sarrell Em, Mandelberg A, Cohen HA (2001). Efficacy of Naturopathic Extracts. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

9. Murray MT, Pizzorno J (2012). Ear Infection. The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine.



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